Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tatworth and Boxted (with some Bilbys thrown in)

More mileage on the car and a few more grey hairs. It must be another week of being Henry! My first visit of the week was to Tatworth School in South Chard, so nice and local to begin with. I had last visited Tatworth School about 18 months ago and to be honest I was racking my brains trying to recall anything about my previous visit. My main problem is that I do visit so many schools throughout the year (and I in no way wish to sound smug or demeaning to any school) but after a while, unless they are particularly memorable or outstanding they can somewhat blend into each other. However, as soon as I arrived at the gates of Tatworth it all began flooding back to me. All was there to remind me, the friendly teachers, the lovely kids and the great facilities. It was only a half day on this particular Tuesday, so I got my chance to do all my favourite bits, the talk about Henry’s life, the stocks and some jousting. It was a fine jousting session and for once the Gents walked away with it. It was nice to be back and I hope to return to this lovely school at some point soon.
Wednesday was spent with my son as my wife was at work, so I took him into Yeovil as I needed to get a Father Christmas beard and wig for my forthcoming appearances in this role at Leeds Castle. We later drove over to Ilminster for lunch at Bilby’s and I once again nagged Tris into sending me the photos from our banquet at the County Museum to put on the website. Thankfully his lovely daughter Emma forwarded the pics to me this evening and so once I am back in Somerset, aka the Land of the Living, I shall send them on to Steve French and he can amend the website.
Wednesday evening I drove to Essex for an appearance today at Boxted School near Colchester. I last appeared at Boxted again, about 18 months ago, but my how things have changed. Gone is the sweet little Victorian School House down the wee muddy lane and is now replaced with a state of the art school with massive rooms, an atrium and ample parking. Lovely! It was nice to be back again. I had forgotten just what a nice place Boxted was and also how nice all their teachers and teaching assistants are. They are quite cruel to some of their staff, locking them in cupboards and making them create costumes for children’s shows for a start! They are also one of the very few schools I know of that possess a caretaker who looks like Daryl Hannah and Sharron Davies rolled into one! I think all schools should have one of these! The day was a real belter. Lovely kids, great staff, a passable lunch and lots of laughs. We finished with another great jousting session and once again the boys triumphed. This could become a habit you know…
Had a nice email this evening from Hazeldene School who I visited some time ago saying that their pupils are doing an end of year show highlighting their favourite moments of the year gone by, and they have chosen my visit as the main highlight of their year. Ah, bless! Tomorrow I am down to Leeds Castle for a costume fitting for my Father Christmas gear and then I am off to Nelson Junior in East Ham for a banquet. I should be back in Somerset sometime on Saturday. And so to bed!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Modbury and Hadleigh - Cross Country

Before I beging this addition to the Blog, can I just put it on record that I adore my job. I am very very lucky to be something for a living which is fun, silly and allows me to act like an 8 year old. However, it does have one enormous draw back - the travel and distances that are sometimes involved. I normally try to negate this problem by ensuring that I have all shows in the same, roughly geographical area. So, if at the beginning of term I get someone booking me in Broadstairs in Kent, I will endeavour to push any other school from that same general area towards that date when, and if, they show an interest. However, it doesn't always work that smoothly, particularly if other people get involved in doing the bookings for you! I had already been booked for a little while to appear at Modbury Primary School. Modbury is a small town sort of half way between Buckfastleigh and Plymouth in South Devon. While I was away in Essex recently, my wife had taken a call from Hadleigh School in Southend-on-Sea in Essex who wanted me to come and visit very soon. Amanda had a quick look at my wall planner and managed to decipher my childish scrawl on the various dates. Sadly, for Modbury in Devon, she read Danbury in Essex. Therefore, to cut a long story mercifully short, instead of doing the show in Modbury and then heading home for an early night and a lie in the next morning, I had to leave Modbury, head for home, pack a suitcase, throw it in the car and then drive to Essex, then get up at the crack of dawn and head down to Hadleigh. In the end it wasn't too bad and both schools were so lovely it was well worth the mileage!
Starting at Modbury, I drove down the A38 and was delghted to discover that Modbury wasn't nearly as far west as I had been led to believe. It was a charming little town, quite hilly and the school was delightfully old fashioned and creaky! The children were fabulous, very keen to learn and full of enthusiasm for all things Tudor. I did the whole school in one shot, which basically means I won't be going back to that school as Henry for a few years as they have all seen the show! After a lovely lunch of gammon and roast potatoes it was back for the afternoon and the usual noise and nonsense. For a nice change the boys won the jousting, and this after I had predicted to the teachers that the girls were bound to win! I packed up and headed for home. When home I got a suitcase together and struck out for Essex at about 6pm. I arrived at my parent's house just after 9pm.
The next morning I was up and off to Hadleigh Junior School. This was another fine day, very kind friendly teachers and some challenging, excitable and bouncy pupils. I even had a nice chicken sandwich bought for me by my most charitable hosts. After a slightly fractured afternoon (we had to break for an afternoon break as well as a morning break) the day culminated in a great jousting tournament that the ladies simply walked away with. The gentlemen proved themselves to be true gentlemen by congratulating the ladies on their victory and shaking hands afterwards. Well done gentsI have had a couple of days off now, but I will be back as Henry on Tuesday next week, beginning with a half day at Tatworth School near Chard. Then I am up to Essex again for a visit to Boxted near Colchester, a quick visit to Leeds Castle for a fitting of my Father Christmas costume and then on to East Ham and Nelson Primary for a Tudor Banquet! Lovely

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Maynard again

Today I was due for another return visit, this time to The Maynard School in Exeter. The Maynard is a very old private school for girls. I had last visited here back in about March 2006 and I was looking forward to going back. I was very warmly greeted by the new Head Teacher of the Junior School, who even better still proved himself to be a worthy roady! Then I met up with Keagh again, the charming lady from my last visit. It was so nice to see her again, and also to see her "blossoming" so well - nearly eight months gone! The last time I visited we had a very small group of about 15 young ladies, but today we had two classes together, so there was something like 30 today. It was a good day all round. The young ladies certainly knew their stuff about the Tudors, especially one young lady called Catherine who proved to be a font of all knowledge! It was even rumoured that Noel Edmonds' daughter was in my group, but I resisted the temptation to do any "Deal or No Deal" gags.
After a fine lunch it was on to the stocks and jousting. I resisted the temptation to put either of the teachers in the stocks, firstly because Keagh was so heavily pregnant and secondly as I hardly knew Miss Bacon, the other teacher and didn't want to upset her!
Being an all girls school, the ladies inevitably won the jousting! And I got paid, a rarity these days! Thank you The Maynard, a fine day all round. Tomorrow - Modbury and then a trudge up to Essex...

Monday, November 20, 2006

Christmas Lights - Taunton

Sunday and I was back at The Somerset County Museum at Taunton Castle for a Tudor Christmas Experience! Some wonderful flyers and posters with my ugly mug on them had been plastered around the town and were being liberally distributed amongst the good people of Taunton by a Jester! I was due on for three talks during the day as usual, plus a few bits of wandering about and chatting to people. Also adding to the fun was some Tudor crafts for people to have a bash at, the alms house people were showing off their Tudor lifestyles, we had a hog roast in the main courtyard of the Castle and various volunteers selling mulled wine, mince pies and selling raffle tickets, with prizes that included signed copies of some of Mick Aston's books from the other night. To add to the fun we also had "Sparky the Somerset Dragon" in attendance, and he was going down a storm with the kids all day.
My first talk went pretty well and we had a pretty hefty turn out - but nothing compared to the second show. Simply masses and masses of people, many of them lined up on the balcony overlooking the area in which I was speaking. It went really well, everyone seemed to enjoy it, and I am pleased to say the applause at the end was relatively deafening and went on for some time! Wonderful. The final group was hard work as I was getting tired by now, added to which they were quite quiet. My wife and son turned up again, but as James has the attention span of a mayfly I didn't see much of them! I finished, said goodbye to all the usual lovely people at the Museum, including Steve Minnett again, Carrie Blogg, Barry, Teddy and everyone else, and then hurried home. My wife and I were thinking of going to see the lights switched on for Christmas, but we were too tired for words, so we went home instead! To cap a good day, I then went and got some fish and chips for the evening, and most welcome they were!
Tomorrow, I am at The Maynard in Exeter again, but then off to Modbury in Devon for my first visit to a new school. Should be fun!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Time Team and Mick Aston

This has been a great evening. I had tickets for a talk Professor Mick Aston of the Channel 4 series "Time Team" was giving at the Wellsprings Leisure Centre in Taunton. This was to raise money for the Somerset County Museum appeal. A very good cause. I was going with my wife, Amanda, and friends Matthew Applegate and his lovely wife Sue. However, due to a lack of babysitter on our behalf, Amanda couldn't attend.
I was really looking forward to this evening as I had met Professor Aston before, back in about 2000 after he gave a talk at an Archaeology Group in Southend in Essex. I had been fortunate enough to have dinner with him afterwards and then drive him back to his hotel, which somehow I found after getting lost for what seemed a lifetime.
His talk this evening was about "Time Team" and generally the background of the show, how it gets made and what to expect from the new series. He did a question and answer session at the end. Then he hung around and signed books for people and chatted nicely. I waited my turn to talk to him. While I was waiting I was recognised by a few people as Henry VIII which was nice, and one lovely lady who thanked me for the show I did at Archbishop Cranmer school and also for the nice things I had said about the school in this very blog! Well, I shall continue saying them, as I love Archbishop Cranmer school!
Finally, I got a chance to talk to Mick, and believe it or not, he actually remembered me from that meal in Essex all those years ago. He reckoned the curry he'd had that evening was one of the best he'd ever had! I let him have some of my Henry leaflets and he assured me he would get them to the right people at Channel 4 and should they be doing a Tudor Time Team soon, I would be hearing from them. Music to my ears! He even gnashed his teeth and wailed at the fact that I hadn't been available when they had filmed at Richmond Palace and Greenwich! So did I...
Matthew, Sue and I stopped at the Royal Oak at Barrington for a couple of beers and then it was on home. A lovely evening!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Knightwood Junior School, Chandlers Ford

After two days being ill with a thick cold and early nights, it was back on the treadmill again today. Up bright and early... well, early anyway, and then off down towards my old work place of Southampton and the town of Chandler's Ford and my return visit to Knightwood Junior School there. It was a fairly awful journey down, loads of traffic and I didn't actually get to the school until just after 8.30am. I was welcomed with a cup of tea and given my own changing room, which was nice, despite it having glass walls on nearly all sides! Thank God for blinds. It was a nice group today, 61 children, most of whom were very quiet. Some of their knowledge of the Tudors was remarkably good considering they had only started studying them after the recent half term break. The afternoon went very well, with the stocks proving very popular. The final jousting tournament was won by the Ladies - AGAIN! How is it they win nearly all the time? I am sure some scientific boffin somewhere could tell me that.
Back home this evening and taking it easy. I read up on the Bales Worldwide website from Amanda Nickerson, the MD of the company from the corporate bash last week. On her on line diary she wrote the following:
"This year we chose a medieval theme as we are aware that travellers coming to the UK, love our history, We had fire eaters, jugglers, magicians, harp music and the great man himself King Henry VIII who I have to say you had to a take a double take on as he really did look like the original man !! "
What does she mean, look like the original man?? I AM the Original Man! But thank you anyway for your ringing endorsement.
Tomorrow night I am in Taunton to see Mick Aston of Time Team fame and then I am back at the Museum in Taunton on Sunday for the Christmas launch there! Should be fun!

Monday, November 13, 2006


The King has been struck down! This is no Battle of Hastings scenario - this is a coughing, sniffing and snot scenario... One of the only draw backs of this fabulous job I am lucky enough to do, is that with all the schools I visit and the children I meet, I catch cold after cold after cold. Since September I seem to have had either a chest infection or a sniffle of some sort or other. But it was bound to get worse, and I am now struck down with a full blown, proper cold. Temperature, cough, sore throat, dizziness and more snot. Horrible. Thank God for the wonderful invention of Lemsip. It may not cure it, but by God it makes you feel better. An early night last night, another one tonight and I should be OK for the trip to Chandler's Ford in Hampshire tomorrow morning. Sniff. Sneeze. Wheeze. Pass the Lemsip...

Friday, November 10, 2006

St Teresa's, Bales Worldwide, Robert Kett and Wickford!

This has been an incredible week. I started on Tuesday, driving up to Essex to stay with my parents as I was doing a load of visits and schools in Essex/East Anglia. Things kicked off on Wednesay morning at St Teresa's Roman Catholic School in Basildon. I am always a little wary of going into a Roman Catholic School dressed as Henry VIII as it is tantamount to going to a Vegan Society Meeting dressed as a Cumberland Whirl. I had no need to worry and was welcomed very warmly by a lovely group of teachers who were all dressed up to the nines. The children in the group were fantastic as well, full of laughter and ready to roar on the participants in the jousting. The day finished with the inevitable triumph of the ladies team. Now where I would normally have just gone home and put my feet up, tonight was a bit different. I was due up at 2, Temple Place in London for a corporate event for Bales Worldwide, a very posh travel group. The journey up was awful. My dear father drove me up, but where the 20+ mile journey should have taken about 40 minutes, it was nearer an hour and a half. Just as we were approaching the place I got a panicked phone call from Emma from the agency who had booked me, desperate to know where I was. Luckily for me, all the guests were similarly held up in the gridlocked London streets. Temple Place is gorgeous, a large Victorian Gothic pile, once owned by the Astors and full of high ceilings, pannelled walls and massive fire places. Bales were entertaining their agents from their far flung resorts, and I was soon to be rubbing shoulders with people from the likes of Bhutan, Nepal, Mongolia and Kyrgyszstan (or however the hell you spell it!). My initial job was to stand at the front door with two comely wenches (one of who was from Hungary!), two heralding trumpeters and two jesters juggling with fire (one of who was Stuart Fell, well known to all us Doctor Who fans as "that bloke in the plastic bubble wrap in The Ark in Space"). As each guest arrived they would get a fanfare of trumpets and a welcoming shout from Henry, they would then have to pose for some shell-shocked looking photos before being whisked inside for a drink and a calm down. I was then brought inside for some more posing photos before my job as announcer for the evening cut in. I had to announce dinner, the speeches, that the men could remove their jackets (but not their trousers), and also to tell everyone to clear off at the end. It was a fun evening and we were treated royally by the agents and Bales Worldwide. One of the guests, who just for a second I thought was my old mate Mike Clarke from Skandia Life, came up to me at the opening reception and said in a very smooth, Etonian accent: "So you're supposed to be Henry VIII are you?" I announced that I was. "And I suppose during the day you're just some boring little office oik from somewhere ghastly like East Cheam, aren't you?" I bristled a little.
"No, I am Henry VIII full time..." He blanched.
"Really? What you travel all round the world doing this full time?"
"Yes" I lied a little. "And what do you do?" I enquired.
"I work in an office..." he said tamely, and wandered off. One nil to Henry. I finally left at about 11.30pm. A lovely friend of my father's Ralph Hayden picked me up in his car (his wife Jean was with him) and they drove me home to my parents. Ralph works as a professional driver, so please don't think I was exploiting him too much!
After getting to bed at after midnight, it was a bit of a shock when my alarm went off at 5.45 am. I was on my way to Wymondham in Norfolk and my third visit in three years to Robert Kett Junior School. I love going to Robert Kett as they are all so nice and welcoming there. The journey up was awful with a bad accident in Long Stratton holding me up for half an hour and nearly making me very late. But the kids were wonderful as ever, the teachers as welcoming as ever (Natasha my usual host there was off on maternity leave, so hello Natasha and new little girl!) and the food delicious! The King was very pleased. The costumes were absolutely stunning this year, but then Robert Kett school always seems to have some of the best costumes. A very quick afternoon session ended with another victory for the girls in the jousting.
Friday I was at another school I hadn't visited before - Wickford Junior This was another superb day. About 90 children, all really excited and up for it. Three lovely teachers, all in splendid costumes and a nice lunch of spaggy bol! I shall return, if they want me of course. The finale at the jousting was amazing, as the boys won! Now that really was a red letter day. I stopped on the way back from the school in Billericay to pay some cheques into my account, and I am due to drive back to Somerset tomorrow morning (Saturday). My next Henry is due at Chandlers Ford in Hampshire near Southampton on Tuesday. Another return visit which I am looking forward to. Have a nice weekend everyone!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Leeds Castle and Whiz Bangs...

A very nice if somewhat peculiar day occurred on Saturday. I mean apart from the usual horrendous loss by Manchester City, I don't think I can recall a Saturday like it. I woke up at my usual sort of time, 7am, and pottered about a bit. I then loaded the car with my Henry gear and headed up the old A303. I was off to Leeds Castle in Kent - again! But this was with a slight difference from normal.
The journey to Kent was easy and I soon arrived at my sister's house in Stockbury, near Sittingbourne, and had a nice cup of tea and a chat with her and her husband, Julian. She cooked me a lovely lunch of chicken enchilladas, a quick tour of all the house work they are having done and then I was off over to Leeds Castle itself. I was to help out at a Fireworks Party being held in the main castle. A large company had hired the castle and had invited various clients and their children for a days entertainment, culminating in a firework display attended by the general public as well - and there were 1,000's of them there already when I arrived! I got changed in the estate office as usual and was then whizzed in an open top golf buggy up to the main castle. This was the most frightening part of the day as the man driving me obviously reckoned he was Michael Schumacher and I had nothing to hold on to, including my dignity. My main job at the do was to meet and greet people at the front door of the castle as they arrived. After battling past me inside was a veritable Aladdin's cave of goodies and fun for the kids. There were rows of Sega car and motorbike racing games that the children could play for free, face painting and henna hand designs, oodles of good food, a cool jazz quartet in the old library and an amazing magician and balloon artist. I started at 2pm and was allowed to go by 4.30pm as the children and their families were off to watch the main firework display. Therefore, after getting changed I was on my way back to Somerset by 5pm and home by 7.30pm. It didn't really feel like I had been to Kent and back at all!
I had a nice relaxing Sunday, pausing only to watch Torchwood and throw buckets of icy water over my wife everytime Captain Jack Harkness appeared on the screen, and so on to this week. Tomorrow (Tuesday) I drive to Essex to stay with my parents. On Wednesday I am at St Theresa's School in Basildon in the day and in the evening I am at 2, Temple Place for a corporate do. Thursday I am up bright and early and off to Robert Kett Junior again in Wymondham, and on Friday I am at Wickford Junior Exhausting and fun. Which is how my wife reckoned Captain Jack Harkness might be.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Archbishop Cranmer - the school not the man...

This was a nice return visit for me. I hadn't been to Archbishop Cranmer School in Taunton since September 2004, so it was nice to get back to them. I had fond memories of my previous visit and was looking forward to seeing Tracy, the teacher I deal with there, again. I arrived smack on time and walked up to the main office to announce myself. The nice lady in the office gave me a swipe card so I could get into the school gym as that was where I was to spend my day. I began setting up my stuff. I heard the approach of footsteps and two people came in - one was Sally, a lovely lady who on my previous visit was unfortunate enough to have her foot in plaster and was unable to really join in the whole thing. Today she was back on top form and dressed as Anne Boleyn, complete with the obligatory green sleeves. She was accompanied by a nice small lady dressed as a fine Tudor wench. That was a fine sight for a King first thing on a frosty morning! What I failed to realise until it was almost time for me to leave was that this tiny wench was in fact Tracy who I normally deal with! I didn't recognise her! She has lost some weight and changed her hairstyle and that combined with the wench costume fooled me completely - Tracy, if you are reading this, many many apologies! You looked great!
The day went swimmingly. I have been suffering of late with a sprained ankle, but have been giving it regular treatments of ibuprofen to stop any swelling and that, combined with an ankle support saw me through the day fine.
The kids group were great - it was years 3 and 4 and they were wonderful. Really interested, very ready to laugh and had some great, if occasionally bizarre questions! We had a break in the morning for the children to take part in a song for worship assembly, but the rest of the day went as usual. The afternoon stocks session was very good and poor old Tracy got picked by the class to go in as the teacher who needed punishing. The jousting was a fine session. I picked a ladies team to help me with the demonstration before the racing in earnest began. They were very slow and didn't really seem to get it. I thought to myself that if these ladies win this tournament I would emigrate to Siberia. Well to be honest, I should be packing my bags for the long train to Tunguska region as somehow, against the odds, these ladies battled their way through the ladies championship to the grand final and then defeated the gentlemen's champs as well. Hats off to those ladies. A wonderful win!
I then packed up and headed for home, tired and happy. And by the evening my ankle was still feeling OK. So a good day all round. I am off to Leeds Castle tomorrow for a fireworks party! See you there I hope.